Friday, May 5, 2017

Downtime (WotC Unearthed Arcana)

Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast put out optional rules for downtime in 5th Edition (accessible here).

Overall, what I saw was encouraging.

It's good to see WotC thinking in terms of a long-form campaign, and what players are doing between adventures. Specific downtime activities I was happy to see include: rules for crafting items of all kinds (and particularly magic items or spell scrolls), rules for training language or tool proficiencies, rules for research of lore regarding foes or locations, and rules for buying and selling magic items.

It was kinda janky to see activities like criminal heists and pit fighting included among downtime activities. They seem more like mini-adventures in and of themselves, to me. The only way I can think to justify it is to say that they're presented in this compressed, abstract format so that one player doesn't take a lot of time away from the party by going out on a mini-adventure of their own while everyone waits for them to finish - which makes sense, I suppose.

The suggestion regarding "foils" (basically villains by another name?) also seemed really out-of-place, especially given that they were given spatial priority in the document. All it really ended up saying is that "yeah, sometimes opponents of the party will be up to stuff while the players are on downtime, too." (I don't think it should take three full letter-size pages to say that.)

I would've liked to see rules regarding more domain-style play, like creating and running factions or building and maintaining manors/castles/towers and their demesnes. (Perhaps that would be another Unearthed Arcana in and of itself, though - which I would be cool with.)

I'm currently running a (heavily-hacked) 5E game, and these rules are fairly lightweight and easy to bolt on without much meddling - and my campaign utilizes downtime. I think I will take advantage of these.

Overall: 3.5/5


  1. What hacks do you have in your 5e game?

    1. Haha, a lot. (I've been thinking of doing a couple posts to cover them.)

      The "core" of the game I left untouched - stats, skills, proficiency, AC, attack/damage, etc.

      Two big changes, though.

      1) Hitpoints / hit dice. Hit dice are gone. HP is calculated as Constitution score (not modifier) plus level. Long rests restore a single hitpoint, short rests rests restore nothing (and are, in fact, removed from the game too.)
      So, overall a grittier game, with a much "shallower" level curve. (As a natural outgrowth of this, classes / spells / monsters also need their level curves flattened - see below - but this is much easier than it sounds.)

      2) Classes / spells. No spell section shared amongst the various spellcasting classes; each spellcasting class has its own (usually much simpler) spellcasting mechanic. Re-did a lot of the classes (again, this is not as much work as it sounds - the flatter level curve means balance is quite easy to achieve, and levels run from 1 to 10 rather than from 1 to 20).

      The HP changes are especially relevant to this article; since only 1 hitpoint is naturally gained each day, I hand out a fair amount of downtime between adventures, allowing characters to get the healing time they often need.

      I've done more work than I NEED to, of course. But I'm one of those insane individuals who LIKES tinkering with game systems, so I think of it as more like entertainment than work, haha.

    2. These rule changes seem like something I would use myself... In fact I have used something very similar before. Tinkering with game systems is indeed lots of fun, but I have a tendency to write them more or less from the ground up :p that's even more fun (and work) haha.

      I would be interested in a more in depth on these grittier rules. Rules variants are great :)

    3. I've done a basic system from the ground up once or twice, but for this campaign I needed a quick start for players already familiar with 5E. So, while I wouldn't usually recommend making such sweeping changes to a ruleset, it worked really well for the particular situation I found myself in. (Campaign has finally entered hiatus after eight months of play since two players had their baby. Currently laying groundwork for a full custom system, now that I have that break!)

      As for a fuller discussion of these changes I made, yeah, I've been wanting to do a series of posts on that since I started the blog, haha. I'll move it up in my list of priorities over here. :)